Rhetoric heats up over Cata­lan in­de­pen­dence vote

Waterloo Region Record - - WORLD - Cia­ran Giles and Aritz Parra

BARCELONA, SPAIN — A parade of farmers’ trac­tors rolled into Barcelona on Fri­day in sup­port for Cat­alo­nia’s in­de­pen­dence vote as Cata­lan and Span­ish au­thor­i­ties is­sued con­flict­ing state­ments on whether the dis­puted ref­er­en­dum would even take place on Sunday.

The ve­hi­cles, many with Cata­lan flags, drove slowly into the city to the cheers of res­i­dents who stood by the side of the road.

The de­mand by Cata­lan sep­a­ratists to hold an in­de­pen­dence vote for the pros­per­ous north­east­ern region of 7.5 mil­lion peo­ple has thrown Spain into a po­lit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis.

Spain’s govern­ment calls the vote il­le­gal, since it vi­o­lates the con­sti­tu­tion, and the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tional Court has or­dered it sus­pended. Span­ish au­thor­i­ties have been crack­ing down on ef­forts to or­ga­nize the vote, de­tain­ing or­ga­niz­ers and con­fis­cat­ing bal­lots and posters.

The dis­puted vote has even sparked a show­down over who po­lice in Cat­alo­nia should re­port to, the region’s rul­ing sep­a­ratist politi­cians or the cen­tral govern­ment in Madrid.

Euro­pean Union of­fi­cials on Fri­day ruled out any me­di­a­tion in the clash.

Cata­lan re­gional Pres­i­dent Car­les Puigde­mont and Barcelona Mayor Ada Co­lau, in sep­a­rate in­ter­views with The As­so­ci­ated Press, had urged Europe to in­ter­vene to break the po­lit­i­cal dead­lock over the vote.

But Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Pres­i­dent An­to­nio Ta­jani said Fri­day at an EU sum­mit in Es­to­nia that the dis­pute is “a Span­ish prob­lem in which we can do lit­tle. It’s a prob­lem of re­spect­ing Span­ish laws that Spa­niards have to re­solve.”

Ta­jani says the EU is main­tain­ing its sup­port of Spain’s govern­ment be­cause “on a le­gal level, Madrid is right.”

“I think it’s im­por­tant to talk on a po­lit­i­cal level” af­ter the vote, he added.

The EU has said that Cat­alo­nia will be ejected from the bloc if it de­clares in­de­pen­dence and would need to ap­ply to re­join it.

Spain’s cab­i­net spokesman said Fri­day there will no ref­er­en­dum on Sunday and warned Cata­lan of­fi­cials that they would “face con­se­quences” for press­ing ahead with a vote that was sus­pended by the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tional Court.

Cata­lan of­fi­cials, how­ever, an­nounced that more than 60 per cent of the 5.3 mil­lion el­i­gi­ble vot­ers are ex­pected to cast bal­lots Sunday de­spite the Span­ish govern­ment’s ef­forts to stop the ref­er­en­dum.

Sep­a­ratist groups have been call­ing on par­ents to or­ga­nize ac­tiv­i­ties with stu­dents in schools this week­end in or­der to oc­cupy the build­ings so po­lice can’t show up to close them off be­fore the vote.

With the tourist-pop­u­lar Barcelona as its re­gional cap­i­tal, Cat­alo­nia con­trib­utes a fifth of Spain’s 1.1 tril­lion-euro econ­omy ($1.32 tril­lion).

The ma­jor­ity of Cata­lans favour hold­ing a ref­er­en­dum but they have long been al­most evenly split over in­de­pen­dence, with os­cil­la­tions de­pend­ing on Spain’s cur­rent eco­nomic per­for­mance.

SAMUEL ARANDA, NEW YORK TIMES

Farmers from around Cat­alo­nia parade in Barcelona in sup­port of the Cat­alo­nia ref­er­en­dum and vow to help pro­tect polling sta­tions in the up­com­ing vote.

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